Thursday, September 15, 2011

Embracing my curls

I am the child of a mixed race relationship.  My mother is white (Italian, Scottish and Native American) and my father is black (from Arkansas...sad, that most African Americans don't know much of their heritage).  I was born with a head full of hair.  It was black and straight.  Of course I don't remember these days, but by looking at pics I can see that my hair stayed kind of straight and silky until I was about a year old.  Then it started to curl up, but not really curly, more like bushy.  All through my younger childhood my mom would braid my hair - SUPER TIGHT.  IT HURT!  But my hair always looked neat and it was pretty healthy.  When she would take the braids out I would have these awesome waves and I would wear my hair like that for a couple days.  Sometimes she would put sponge rollers in my hair and it would be nice and smooth with a little bump of curl at the end.  That was usually for school pictures.  Then there was the daughter of the couple that lived upstairs.  When she would visit her parents sometimes she would hook me up with banana curls. Sing it with me now... AWE-SOME!

When I was 7 my hair was pretty long.  After 2nd grade ended, my mom took me to a salon to get my hair trimmed.  I had never been to a salon before.  The woman took one look at my thick, full, frizzy head of hair and said something to the tune of "all of this is dead.  We need to cut most of this off."  I don't think my mom was thrilled with that, but the stylist was the professional, right?  She knew hair.  When she was finished I had this mullet-esqe afro.  IT WAS HORRIBLE!  I was heading into the 3rd grade at a new school.  This was awful!  Not only am I the new kid, I'm chunky and I have an afro mullet.  WTF!

Sometime during the summer, before the school year began, my mom came home with a jar of Classy Curl.  This was not quite a Jheri Curl, but had a similar effect.  It loosened my curls so they had more "hang time" and were more defined.  I watched my hair transform almost right before my eyes.  At the time, I was all over it.  Yes, put more in, Ma!  This 'fro has got to go!  It's amazing how the hair on your head can make or break your confidence.  She bought me some frilly barrettes and I felt cute.  The mullet fro was gone.  I had coily, yet semi greasy curls.  I mean it wasn't dripping or anything, so as long as no one touched it and I didn't lean my head on anyone's upholstery, my greasy secret was safely hidden.  

First day of school came and I was nervous to meet new people and my new teacher and roam the halls of a new school.  To my delight, no one made fun of least not to my face.  Everyone was nice and I quickly made friends and excelled in class.  The year went by quickly and then my mom bought her first home.  Which meant moving again and starting over in a new school back on the other side of the city.  Even though my juicy curls worked out fine for Tracy school, I wasn't so sure that was the right hair move for Harrington.  I started to ween myself off of the Classy Curl and my hair quickly DRIED up.  My bouncy defined curls shriveled up into a tight afro once again.  It had grown so it was extra mullet-y.  Frigging yay!

I wasn't too sure about this 'do, but I felt having a quasi jheri-curl was definitely more detrimental to my reputation, so I went with it.  My 4th grade class was huge and the kids all seemed so grown and mature compared to my last classroom.  Although, I made friends quickly with everyone, I was teased about my hair.  My name was quickly changed from Maleeka to Fluffy.  Lemme hear it....Awwwwww :(  haha!  But it was never in a point and ridicule way, I was just simply referred to as Fluffy.  "Hey, Fluffy, pass those papers back."  "Yo, Fluffy, lemme get a piece of Hubba Bubba."  "Fluffy, you wanna play with us at recess?"  I just went along with it.  The first few times I heard it hurt my feelings.  But then I realized that they actually liked me so I didn't feel so bad.  The worst and (now) funniest thing about this nick name was in 5th grade.  My mom came in for parent teacher night and my favorite teacher of all time, Mr. Leary, says to me in front of my mom.  "I hope that the kids teasing you because of your weight doesn't hurt your feelings."  I said, "they don't tease me about my weight".  He said, "you know... when they call you Fluffy".  Great, my teacher thinks I'm a big fat fatty McFatster!  I said no, that's because of my hair.  It is pretty damn hilarious now, but as a 10 or 11 year old it was mortifying.

I carried that nickname throughout elementary school and then once we moved on to Jr. High, all of us students were pretty much scattered all throughout the school.  I rarely had a class with anyone from Elementary school.   But every now and then, walking through the halls, I'd hear "YO FLUF-FY!"  And I would always turn and wave.  By this time I had learned to "do" my hair (or so I thought, I see pics now and cringe) and the "fluffy" afro mullet was a thing of the past.  The nickname stuck around for a while, but I kind of took it on like a hard earned badge of honor.  It was my claim to fame, haha!

I had a relaxer here and there growing up but never anything that was maintained and touched up on a regular basis until Jr. High.  I no longer had any curl.  I wanted it straight as can be.  Not only for esthetic  reasons but not knowing how to manage my natural hair HURT!  I was always snapping my curls when combing it and hitting snarls that literally felt like I was ripping my hair out.  It was just too much work for me then.  I didn't want my mom doing my hair anymore, I was a pre-teen, haha!  This was the late 80's and high hair and banana clips were the style and I could achieve such ridiculous hair with my relaxed tresses.

Hair styles came and went but my trusty box of home relaxer kit stayed well into my adult years.  I went to the salon often for a press and curl, spending hours among other women getting our kinks and curls pulled and burned out of our hair.  There was a couple years in there when I decided to go without any relaxer.  My stylist would charge me more money since I had curls.  And getting my hair combed while at the salon was pure torture.  They just had no idea how to handle curls.  They always tried to persuade me to (please) get a relaxer.  Almost begging me, trying to tell me all the benefits of a relaxer.  THERE ARE NO BENEFITS TO GETTING A RELAXER.  IT IS CHEMICALS!

When I went to Argentina for my surgery, my hair was relaxer free but flat ironed straight.  After being in the hospital all that time without proper care, my hair was in a sad state.  When I got home, my hair was falling out from all the stress, medications and lack of ANY hair care products while abroad.  I ended up with a decent sized bald spot on the back of my head (which I still sport).  The length was probably a little past my shoulders.  But it was falling out in clumps.  Even using baby shampoo was too harsh for me at this time.  I asked a friend who cuts hair to come over to my house and chop my hair off.  I had her cut it very short.  Like four inches from my scalp short.  This was not a fashion move.  This was simply about getting my hair healthy again.  Then sadly, once my hair was healthy I relaxed my hair again!  Then I had a very nice cropped cut, I loved it, but felt guilty for relaxing again.

I relaxed until about a year and a half ago.  It was not really a calculated decision to stop relaxing.  I just had young toddler and I just didn't have a lot of extra time on my hands or the energy to take care of myself the way that I wanted to.  From relaxing for years, my hair had lost it's natural curl pattern.  It was wavy, not really curly yet.  I couldn't even remember what my curly hair looked like.  I then made a promise to myself to NEVER relax my hair ever again.  I wanted to treat my hair right and I always was curious what my natural hair even looked like.

My hair is now a little past my shoulders when it is wet, about 2 inches above when dry.  My hair is two different textures.  More of a 3B all over and then 3C underneath at the nape of the neck.  And at the very front, it is possibly 3A or even 2C.  This is probably from being pulled back in pony tails for 30 years.  My hair is still changing and curling up more and more with every passing month and I love the changes that my hair made.  It feels good to only use natural products and no chemicals.

I recently had a Deva cut.  If you have read this post all the way through I am assuming that you too, have curly hair.  Whether you are black, white, latin or whatever, if you have curly hair, I highly recommend a Deva Cut.  It is a totally different approach to cutting hair.  First of all it is cut dry.  The reason for this is curly hair takes on a totally different shape when wet and when dry.  If you cut a curl when it is wet, you really have no idea how much you are REALLY chopping.  An inch cut off of wet curly hair will be at least an inch and a half dry due to shrinkage.  Each and every curl on your head is cut individually.  The cut is a more expensive than your average run of the mill cut but definitely worth it.

I have been to Black salons, White salons and Spanish salons.  None of them knew how to handle my hair.  The reason is that none of them had anyone on their staff that knew curls.  The salon that I went to for my Deva Cut is a posh upscale "white" salon and spa.  The woman who cut my hair is white.  This made me nervous.  I went in first to meet her and have a consultation.  I wanted her to see and touch my hair before we made any appointments.  During my consultation, I told her that I think that one of the best qualities in a hair stylist is honesty.  If you cannot do my hair, just be honest.  You aren't hurting my feelings by telling me you don't have experience with ethnic hair.  But I WILL be mad if you tell me that you can cut my hair and you really can't.  I told her about my very first salon experience and cut and she agreed that a good stylist would never have cut my hair if they didn't know how.  She convinced me that she could cut my hair no problem.  And she was right!  My hair now has more shape and style and the frizz layer that was surrounding my curls is now gone.  My curls are now much more defined and I can feel the difference in the health of my hair.  I am also ecstatic that I found a stylist that understands my hair and can do what she says.  I wish I knew who the woman was who hacked my hair when I was a little girl.  She should have told my mother something along the lines of "I really have no experience working with ethnic hair and instead of pretending that I do and chopping off your little girl's hair and having all the kids make fun of her, you should take her to another salon where you might have better luck."

It has taken me almost 35 years to embrace and rock my natural hair.  Taking care of it and styling it is a long learning process but the journey of trials and errors is most definitely worth it.  I hope to see more and more au naturals in the future.

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